Artichoke

by curiousmiscellany

curious misc - artichoke

On the occasion of Valentine’s Day, let’s talk about the artichoke – the vegetable with a heart. To be scientifically correct, an artichoke is actually the immature flower blossom of a perennial thistle (cynara) native to the Mediterranean region. Though prehistoric-looking, with its green and dark purple, scale-like florets, the earliest record we have that proves their existence was written by a Greek naturalist in the Third Century BC. In fact, the Greeks had a myth which explained its origin: basically, Zeus fell in love with a mortal named Cynara, who he invited to be his mistress on Mount Olympus, and when she decided that she would rather live on earth, Zeus turned this hard-to-get beauty into a hard-to-eat artichoke. Notwithstanding this inconvenient characteristic, the artichoke was adored by the Greeks and Romans—perhaps because of their supposed aphrodisiacal effects?—and, from Sicily and other parts of Italy, they slowly infiltrated the rest of the Mediterranean and parts of Europe. In the Sixteenth Century, Catherine de Medici was responsible for bringing them (as well as the fork) to the French court when she married Henry II. The artichoke arrived in the United States via Spanish colonists who road tripped it all the way to California, the state responsible for the entire production of artichokes in the US, the grand part in Monterey County. (Fun fact: in 1947, Marilyn Monroe was the Artichoke Queen of Castroville, CA, the self-proclaimed “Artichoke Center of the World”.) When Pablo Neruda in his “Ode to the Artichoke” befittingly likened the vegetable to little warriors because of their “armor”, it seems it was an apt description also for their invasion tactics. But don’t you worry, just do what Neruda did: dump the suckers in boiling water (salted, perhaps with a little parsely) and about thirty minutes later…

Thus ends
in peace
the enlistment
of this armed vegetable
called the artichoke,
after which
leaf after leaf
we undress
its deliciousness
and eat
the peaceful substance
of its green heart.

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